No, Wired, the Web is not 'dead'
Anytime I see a headline in Wired magazine declaring something "dead" or "over" I'm instinctively suspicious -- usually with good reason. This month's cover story, provocatively and misleadingly titled "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet," fits right into that pattern.
In that piece, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson argues that we're moving from an Internet of public Web pages to one of applications and walled-garden sites:
Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It's driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it's a world Google can't crawl, one where HTML doesn't rule.
That, to recycle an old Wired put-down, represents some low-res thinking.
It's true that smartphone and iPad apps can do things that Web pages cannot. It's true that the advertising isn't making as much money for Web sites as many people have hoped. (Ahem.) But to conclude from those data points that the Web is dead or even dying is the kind of unfounded speculation that ... shows up in Wired cover stories fairly regularly.
(Wired's breathlessly-wrong 1997 cover story, "Push! Kiss your browser goodbye: The radical future of media beyond the Web," remains the best example of that, though you have to give Anderson credit for noting that in the fifth paragraph.)
Consider the apps-versus-Web-pages issue. The popularity of smartphone apps reflects some temporary competitive imbalances. Many Web sites have yet to see the kind of smartphone-aware redesign that makes the iPhone- and Android-compatible versions of the Facebook and Twitter sites such a pleasure to use. Many others can't be viewed on an iPhone or iPad at all, thanks to Steve Jobs's banning of Adobe Flash on those devices -- an issue Anderson's piece doesn't mention.
Meanwhile, until Web design catches up -- which it will -- it's easier to build location-awareness and photo-sharing features into apps than into mobile Web pages.
But purely Web-based applications have advantages of their own, such as not being subject to Apple's sometimes-inscrutable curatorship of the App Store. Nor do they need to be rewritten for different smartphone platforms.
Then there's the economics angle of Anderson's argument, that it's easier to make a buck with an app than a Web site. Sure, the App Store makes it blissfully easy to give your money to app developers, but that's not so simple in the Android Market -- especially in the dozens of countries outside the U.S. in which Google hasn't enabled app purchases.
Further, that doesn't mean you can't charge for access to a Web site -- something successfully done by such publications as Consumer Reports and the Wall Street Journal -- or that you even need to. As Anderson should know all too well, having written a decent book on the subject last year, there's more than one way to make money on something given away online.
Wired doesn't help the piece's credibility by topping it with a misleading chart that shows Web pages taking up a smaller proportion of the Internet's bandwidth. That chart doesn't show the overall growth of the Internet -- which, when reformatted as Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza helpfully did yesterday, shows that Web use has kept climbing, just not quite as rapidly as video.
For another critique of Anderson's piece, see the one Anderson nominated in a tweet as "the best": Atlantic Monthly writer Alexis Madrigal's post noting that new technologies rarely sweep their predecessors off the map.
For a smarter discussion of the Web-versus-apps competition, click past the cover story and a companion piece by Michael Wolff to read a debate between Anderson and Web entrepreneurs Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle. It ends with Battelle astutely remarking that:
If the scope of the piece was really just about the web as a viable model for "professional content" as we see it, then splashing "The Death of the Web" on the cover might be, well, overstating the case just a wee bit ...
Sounds about right to me.
What's your forecast for the future of the Web, mobile and otherwise, as compared to Internet-connected apps? In which do you think you'll spend most of your time five years from now?
August 18, 2010; 4:27 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Mobile , Recommended reading , The Web , The business we have chosen
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